PRESS RELEASE

Can Biden Science Task Force Break Old Bad Habits? 

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For Immediate Release:  Thursday, May 27, 2021
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Can Biden Science Task Force Break Old Bad Habits?

 

Many Worked for Years in Failed System without a Peep of Protest

Washington, DC — President Biden’s newly convened Scientific Integrity Task Force is charged with determining why the Scientific Integrity Policies adopted under President Obama did not work, including “an analysis of any instances in which existing scientific-integrity policies have not been followed or enforced.” Today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) submitted examples of cases where the policies were used to cover up rather than remedy misconduct, including a still pending but languishing complaint, to the Task Force.

This Scientific Integrity Task Force meets for the second time tomorrow as it decides how to finish its task by mid-September. At that point, the Task Force is to finalize a “framework [for] improvement of agency scientific-integrity policies and practices [and] ensuring that agencies adhere to the principles of scientific integrity.”

Today, PEER submitted to the Task Force six examples in which scientific integrity policies have been used to mask misconduct and ratify improper agency actions.  The examples cover three agencies over the past decade, including one case where a Scientific Integrity Officer was fired after raising concerns and another case in which a high-ranking Task Force member has been stalling an investigation for the past year. Many of the Biden Task Force members were working on scientific integrity issues when this misconduct occurred.

“Scientific integrity policies failed under both the Obama and the Trump administrations,” said PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse. “These six cases are only a sample
of instances where these policies have undermined rather than enhanced scientific integrity – in fact, we are hard pressed to identify a single success story.”

The cases PEER cites feature decisions by agency officials to block investigations into alleged misconduct by senior officials, principally political appointees. These cases include –

  • Dismissal of a complaint about directives by a senior Fish & Wildlife Service official to the scientific recovery team for the endangered Mexican wolf to alter their findings;
  • A decision by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration to block investigation of official estimates reflecting less than half the true flow rate of oil leaking from the BP Deepwater Horizon, issued under White House pressure contrary to experts’ input; and
  • Failure by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to act on a complaint co-signed by 44 former and current federal employees about senior EPA officials excluding key scientific information and its own experts from contributing to the formulation of a new, sweeping redefinition of Waters of the U.S.

In each case, PEER draws lessons that should have been learned but remain unacknowledged and recommends reforms. It is the first of five submissions PEER will make to the Task Force, including a recommended model policy.

“Scientific integrity policies have been an abject failure,” added Whitehouse. “As the philosopher George Santayana famously observed, ‘Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it’, which is why these cases merit attention today.”

 

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Look at PEER sampling of failed scientific integrity cases

See President Biden’s charge to his Task Force

View “readout” of first Task Force meeting